Wisconsin's ticket to the Big Ten title game wasn't going to be revoked, even with a Saturday loss to Minnesota. But there was a ton more on the line.
Trailing at halftime, the Badgers capitalized on four second-half interceptions to come back and win 31-17, beating the rival Gophers, hanging onto Paul Bunyan's Axe and keeping their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Wisconsin will compete against Penn State for a conference championship next Saturday night in Indianapolis.
Things didn't start so sweetly for the Badgers, who entered on a 12-game winning streak in this century-old rivalry. The Gophers kicked a field goal on their opening drive before the teams traded second-quarter touchdowns, Wisconsin scoring on an Alec Ingold one-yard run and Minnesota answering on a 13-yard pass from Mitch Leidner to Drew Wolitarsky, a scoring play set up by a massive kickoff return.
The Gophers broadened their lead right before halftime, Leidner capping a 68-yard drive with a short touchdown run that sent Minnesota to the locker room with a 17-7 advantage.
Wisconsin chipped away with a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter. Then the Badger defense, elite all season long, stepped up in a big way, collecting four interceptions from Leidner during the second half. The first didn't lead to anything — though it did come in the end zone, Leo Musso halting a potential scoring drive for the Gophers — but the Badgers scored off Leidner's second, to Sojourn Shelton, Corey Clement rushing in from three yards out to tie the game at 17.
Clement fumbled five plays later, putting Minnesota on the positive end of a turnover. But the Gophers merely punted away, and the Badgers marched 87 yards in three plays, Jazz Peavy rushing 71 yards on a jet sweep to put Wisconsin at the five-yard line and Clement hitting paydirt for a go-ahead touchdown, making it 24-17.
Three plays later came Leidner's third pick, this one to Leon Jacobs, and one play after that came an eight-yard touchdown run by Dare Ogunbowale, putting Wisconsin ahead by two scores. Leidner's fourth pick was also to Shelton, effectively ending the game.
The Badgers out-gained the Gophers, 362-286, but it was the four second-half turnovers that loomed largest in this one.
Clement went for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, Peavy adding 83 yards on the ground, the majority coming on the one big play. Bart Houston threw for 123 yards, doing the entirety of the quarterbacking after Alex Hornibrook was knocked out with an injury.
Leidner passed for 158 yards and a touchdown, rushing for an additional 46 yards and a touchdown. But he threw those four interceptions as the Gopher offense was generally unable to do much against the Badger defense.
Wisconsin improved to 10-2 overall and 7-2 in conference play, officially winning the Big Ten West Division title a night after earning a spot in the Big Ten title game with Nebraska's Friday loss. The Badgers will go up against fellow two-loss, top-10 team Penn State in the conference championship game, and a berth in the Playoff could be on the line. Ohio State figures to be one Big Ten representative in the sport's final four, though the winner of the league title bout could easily be a second, should the selection committee favor the conference as it has throughout the past several weeks. This will be Wisconsin's fourth appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Minnesota finished the season at 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the conference. The Gophers will await their bowl destination after winning eight games in a season for the third time in the past four seasons.